The 906 Adventure Team is gearing up for the 2022 Polar Roll on February 12. As usual, the event is full of a challenging variety of fatbike and snowshoe events and of course...bacon.
In this interview, I chat with Polar Roll Race Director, Todd Poquette. Todd is well known for creating new categories of pain as well as community. The crew in Marquette Michigan works harder and takes bigger risks to come up with new ways to create memorable bike adventures.
We talk about his philosophy around challenging adventures, how bacon became an on-course staple, and what exactly makes the Polar Roll such an icon.
All photos by Ryan Stevens Photo @ryanstephensphoto
Todd, where did the Polar Roll idea even come from?
We had this local fat bike event called the “World Snowbike Championship” or something like that. It piggybacked a large nordic event in the community and covered nothing but nordic ski trails. I kept asking myself and a few others the same questions:
“Why the heck are we piggybacking a ski event?”
“Why the heck are we going to crown someone the World Snowbike Champion for winning a road race?”
It just seemed sacrilegious and boring.
Here we are in Marquette County, Michigan, on the edge of a fat bike boom, and in a community that is setting the standard for fat bike grooming… and we are gonna host a world championship on ski trails?
You should always ask yourself “What can we do that no one can do better?” In Marquette, the answer was simple: create one helluva lotta snow and groom trails specifically for fat bikes. That was the vision in its most simple form.
Step 2: Identify a course.
I wanted to link trails groomed by RAMBA and NTN to create an epic P2P adventure. I also wanted to see the communities work together (west end and Marquette). We are like every other community, we have our little weird politics and special groups. I felt the more we could bring the two sides together the better things will be for everyone. I’d say for the most part the majority of people bought into it and continue to buy into it still today.
Step 3: Identify who this event is for.
This was the beginning of how Polar Roll and the rest of our events have set themselves apart. We looked at Polar Roll as more of an adventure, not just a race. You know what makes an event a race? Two people lining up side-by-side with one goal - to kick the other person’s butt. What I’m saying is, you can create an experience for everyone and make it accessible to everyone, and you’ll still have 10% of your field show up solely for the chance to race. We’ve always promoted “race it or ride it”. People should be able to come to an event and experience that event in whatever way will best serve their needs and interests. Polar Roll has always been and will always be more than just a race… it’s a freaking adventure.
What’s up with the on-course bacon?
I mean… it’s bacon!
There’s nothing else to say. I’m kidding, there is.
So Chris Holm and a crew from the “Tuesday Night Rieboldt Ride” group decided to put an aid station out on the course, most likely because our events don’t offer aid stations. We tell folks they’re self-supported, but it was never intended to mean you couldn’t get help from someone, it just meant WE weren’t going to help you. Chris and his crew set the bar that year.
They absolutely crushed it.
It was another moment in life, for me at least, that if you pay attention there’s always something to learn, sometimes in the most unlikely places. I wanna say they set-up about 4-miles from the finish line - and you could not have predicted how perfect it would be.
Riders were coming into “Hugs & Bacon” literally crying for their mommas. The course was brutal!
They’d roll in and the first words uttered are “I’m done!” or some other iteration of profanity laced exhaustion.
But then they had some bacon, and after bacon they drank whiskey, and after the whiskey they had more bacon, and then more whiskey. They’d go from DONE to LETS DO THIS in three shots.
It was magic.
Well, bacon and whiskey if I’m being honest, but I saw something that day…. Actually I saw a lot of things that day. I watched people come together who you’d never expect to see together… and in my view it was the adversity that brought em’ together. Their differences didn’t matter - what did matter was getting through that course alive.
And the aid station… I saw how grateful people were to receive help when they needed it and didn’t expect it… and I saw the people who offered that help feel genuinely good for doing something for someone else… and getting nothing back in return except a sincere thank you. I guess you could say bacon brings out the best in us.
What’s the snowflake challenge? It sounds wimpy.
The snowflake challenge is just another stupid idea we came up with last year as part of the EX format, EX meaning EXPEDITION, meaning you literally are on your own.
EX was our answer to the pandemic.
We were extremely fortunate to find ourselves in the position we were in when we needed to #adapt. I recorded a video on my phone and basically told people “Listen, we’ve been telling you for six-years you’re self-supported and on your own, it’s for real this year!
We were one of the few events to operate that summer and since then the format has blown up. We have been able to reach a whole new group of people… but I digress… you asked about the Snowflake.
You have to complete the EX-30FB (fatbike), EX-30SS (snowshoe), IQ Test (duathlon), and a Director’s Choice. Complete them all and get a hand forged belt buckle.
You have a lot of great photos of people falling in the snow. How much pain should riders expect?
Pain is overrated and temporary.